I know a lot of people don't like cats, and I actually understand it. Some cats are very aloof, some self-serving, and some are downright mean. Still, I like them all. I admire their independence, their refusal to play by the rules, and their fuzzy bellies. I like that they don't try too hard to earn your love so the satisfaction of achieving the love is that much sweeter than when it's just handed over.
I've had a lifetime of cats, and they've all been pretty great. It started with Chipper, who I remember as being just big and fluffy but that might be because I was tiny at the time. Then came Pyewacket, black as night and just as mysterious. And then for my tenth birthday my parents gave me Kitty (cleverly named by yours truly). Kitty was a wonderful cat who I adored and lived to be nearly twenty years old. Topaz came along during the Kitty years, too. She was okay.
But when I moved into my small Northeast Minneapolis duplex almost exactly twelve years ago, I was catless. I put the word out that I wouldn't mind getting a kitty, having been without one for several years and ready again to take the plunge. Still, I had enjoyed several years of fur-free clothes and had enjoyed every one of them, so I didn't push too hard to find one and made the conditions pretty hard to fill. I only wanted a cat already neutered or spayed, already declawed, and free. I didn't want a kitten because they can be a handful. I thought for sure my strict list would render a real cat nearly impossible, so I was pretty surprised when a friend mentioned that her coworker had a cat that fit the bill exactly. I was intrigued, but skeptical. It seemed too good to be true.
I drove to North Minneapolis to meet this available kitty and his owner and was surprised at how large the feline was for being just ten months old. He was orange and white with long fur and he never stopped playing the whole time I was there. The woman told me that her sister had adopted the kitten from the Humane Society just a few months earlier but had received an unexpected job transfer out of state and couldn't take the kitten with her. This woman was going to take him back to the Humane Society, but thought he was so much fun that she couldn't. However, the woman already owned an old cat and the playful new orange and white tabby was proving to be too much for the crotchety old one. Still, she thought this kitty had a great personality and couldn't bear to just leave him at a shelter, so she put the word out to coworkers and that's how I came to be there at that moment.
I looked at the cute kitty and played with it, but wasn't immediately convinced. During a lifetime of cats I had never had an orange and white one so it just felt...not quite right. I told the woman I would think about it and get back to her. I went back to my new duplex with its ugly, stained orange and brown linoleum floors and thought, why not? He was fixed, declawed, and even came with a microchip. Maybe I'd fall in love with him eventually. So I went back for him and made the first order of business a name change. He came with the name Bart and that wasn't going to do. Not a bad name, it just didn't fit him. He was more of a Hakeem, named after Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, a star Houston Rockets center. And, since my brother had recently brought a child into this world (with a little help) and gave his baby our dad's middle name, I thought I'd do it, too. So came to be Hakeem Wallace, the best darn cat ever.
Hakeem recently had his thirteenth birthday and he moves a little slower than he used to. He has a bad thyroid so receives a half pill twice daily, disguised in a treat that he loves. He's never received treats, so it's pretty exciting for him. At one point in his life he topped out at thirty pounds, a weight not usually associated with felines, unless they're of the lion variety. Now, through vigorous diet and exercise (well, not really), he's down to under twenty-four pounds, a little closer to his fighting weight. The vet thinks he's probably best at around nineteen pounds, so we have a goal.
Twelve years later, Hakeem and I have survived a lot together. Several month-long separations while I traveled when we depended on the kindness of friends (his round-the-clock team of caregivers includes my parents and friend Aaron, and recently my brother and a neighbor friend) to get him through, one memorable bout of fleas, two exploded anal sacs (his, not mine), and more baths than my mom probably wants to think about, since she's Hakeem's official bather. She's just really good at it. Hakeem is a constant present in my life. Like Daisy the purple dog from the old Dagwood comic strip series, who appeared in every comic strip frame when Dagwood was pictured at home, so is Hakeem in my life. He follows me everywhere, talks to me, tears up anything made of paper he can get his teeth on to get my attention when he thinks I'm not doing enough for him, and during all but the hottest months he literally falls into me in order to snuggle as closely as possible. Occasionally he'll even walk on me, though that is rare. Thank goodness because it feels like a twenty-five pound boulder on toothpicks standing on me when he does.
This is an homage to a really great cat, the kind that even dog lovers enjoy. He's the kind that books are written for and movies made about. Hakeem will grab your hand with his paw like a human so he can draw it in and lick it. He sleeps on his back, legs akimbo, belly just waiting to be rubbed. He's always waiting for me when I get out of the shower, like he missed me while I was in there. And he is friends with the neighbor's Saint Bernard. What more could a girl want from her cat? Nothing more, that's what.